SMEs need funding to operate in AfCFTA –LCCI boss

In this interview with ADEPEJU ADENUGA, the Director-General, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Dr Chinyere Almona, speaks on how Nigerian businesses can tap into opportunities in African trade among other issues

What are your plans for the chamber as the new director-general?

As the director-general of the Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry, I am responsible for developing and directing the implementation of strategy to ensure achievement of objectives of the chamber while ensuring and managing the growth and development of the institution.

I plan to build on the successes of my predecessor by enhancing stakeholder engagement and advocacy with various arms of federal and state governments.

It is also critical for me to diversify and grow the chamber’s revenue sources and improve efficiency and service delivery to members to increase member engagement.

With the support of my team, I will improve the chamber’s visibility via regular programmes and active use of social media.

With my 30-years’ experience in multiple disciplines such as corporate governance, management consulting, advisory services, strategy, and human capital development, I will lead the repositioning of the Business Education Services and Training unit to maximise opportunities and position it as a leading business resource centre in Nigeria.

Having worked in various sectors of the economy, and in international development, with a strong network across Africa, I will lead the outreach to the rest of Africa, supporting our members in the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement journey.

In addition, LCCI already initiated the annual Africa Hall and Africa Special Day projects to contribute to the growth of trade within the African continent during the annual Lagos International Trade Fair.

What are the challenges you have been having in your new role and how have you managed them?

Coming on board during the COVID-19 season has been very challenging. There is depressed revenue and rising costs.

In addition, our members are stressed by the pandemic and the struggle to keep their companies afloat, making it challenging to engage effectively. For instance, you are unable to visit your members because some still work from home, and others discourage visitations due to the COVID-19 situation.

The Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo, has disclosed that Africa cross border informal trade is worth $93bn.  What effort should the government put in place to help transition the informal economy and harness the opportunities in the sector?

To have players in the cross border informal sector transit to the formal sector, we need to have clear procedures on cross border trade and make it easy to comply with by all kinds and sizes of enterprises involved in trading across borders.

Most of our borders are unmanned, giving room to smuggling and as long as smuggling is lucrative and untamed, most of the players in that space will like to remain informal.

We have petroleum selling at higher prices in our neighbouring countries which motivates the movement of this product across borders at all cost.

The execution of government policies has not yielded results in terms of economic indicators. In what ways should the Federal Government focus on execution of policies to improve the business environment?

For a successful implementation or execution of policies, government must involve the relevant stakeholders to be part of the planning and conception stage.

Governments should learn to own projects they take over from previous administrations and see that they complete such projects.

Government has said it wants to revive the Shea Industry, they are not well known for efficient and effective implementation. How should it tackle this revival?

We have always advocated that we should not export primary products but that we should process and add value before we export them as finished products.

If the non-oil export sector will generate more revenue and forex inflow especially, agro-industrial revolution is required to transform our agriculture sector.

How can MSMEs and small scale industrialists tap into the opportunities inherent in the AfCFTA agreement?

First, they must build capacity in understanding the rules, opportunities, procedures and financing options available for traded expansion through the AfCFTA.

Secondly, government must create an enabling environment by curbing the menace of insecurity that has made it difficult for businesses to access raw materials for production.

If our SMEs produce at higher costs, their products will not compete well at the international markets.

Thirdly, there should be dedicated funding for targeted sectors where SMEs operate to empower more SMEs to scale up to meet international standards. Fourthly, SMEs require support in packaging and marketing to the whole world.

What should the business community expect from the 2021 Lagos International Trade Fair?

The Lagos International Trade Fair is the largest trade fair in the West-Africa region, and it attracts about 500,000 business visitors and above 2,000 exhibitors from various countries yearly.

The Lagos International Trade Fair will provide the business community with a platform to promote their products and services to a target market, create brand awareness, and demonstrate market leadership.

It will also give businesses a unique opportunity to get robust customer feedback and enable them to explore business-to-business trading, including building a customer database from the visitors to their booths.

If LCCI can help businesses to boost revenue in these austere times, it will have an impact on the economy. We are working very hard to continue to provide our members with the support they need to promote their businesses to a wide range of customers locally and internationally.

As part of the fair, we are providing an opportunity for exhibitors in the African countries to showcase their goods and services in the ‘Africa Hall’. A day would be dedicated to these countries during the 10-day fair.

There will be opportunities to make presentations, organise B2B sessions, panel discussion, product unveiling and interactions on intra-African trade initiatives. PUNCH

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